The Old Doll

The problem is that my fiancée hates the old doll. She doesn’t understand that I need it. Kerri doesn’t understand that bad things happen when the doll is not around.

As long as I can remember the doll was there.

It has a soft round face and rather stiff arms and legs. The red shirt and blue pants are sewn right onto the doll’s skin. Its eyes are blue buttons.

I got the doll from my grandfather. He died shortly before my third birthday and gave me the doll probably a year before that.

I have photos of myself as a two year old. On every one of them the doll is with me.

My father always said that my grandmother made the doll and that she modelled the doll after me. That might be true but I know that my grandfather gave the doll to me; it is my earliest memory. I remember him holding the doll in front of me and I reach up, look at his face and grab the doll.

Back then, in that earliest memory, the doll made me feel safe. It still does. Knowing the doll is there calms me down.

Before puberty I had the doll with me at all times. I got teased for it – a twelve year old boy that carries a doll around, I basically asked to be teased – but still I carried it with me. For a long time I didn’t know why, I just knew that I had to carry it around.

When the first hair began to grow in my red-spotted face, I decided to keep the doll at home. I felt embarrassed and I knew that everybody thought I was weird or even handicapped because I always had the doll. I wanted to be cool, not weird.

During the days I felt uneasy. I remember the first time that I left the house without the doll. It seemed as if a dark shadow began to press down on me. My whole body felt heavier and slower.

That has changed. Over time my days have become easier and I don’t need the doll anymore when I go out. I still feel better when I have her, but I don’t need her anymore.

But at night I need the doll. I don’t just want her, it’s not just for my comfort, I need her.

When I was fifteen we did a school trip. Six boys to a room. Bunk beds. I got the top one.

We stayed up until late. We did a tickle attack against one of the girls’ rooms and the girls came back and took revenge. That night I had my first kiss.

Around 23:00 the teachers shooed the girls back to their room and turned our lights off. We told each other dirty jokes until we fell asleep.

I don’t remember the fall. I only remember waking up with bright lights and people around me talking loudly. The ceiling was moving. Someone kept repeating my name.

They said that I fell out of bed. I must have had a seizure and somehow my body managed to roll over the wooden railing.

I had to stay overnight at the hospital.

At 2 in the morning a nurse found me hanging head-first over the side of the bed. She said my body was shaking.

The next day my parents came. My mother placed the doll at the side of the bed, right next to my head.

I stayed for a week. The hospital ran a lot of tests and brain scans but couldn’t find anything. I had no more seizures. The doctors said it might have been an unusual form of an allergy. I came to the conclusion that the doll stopped the seizures. The doll protected me.

From that day on I kept the doll with me whenever I slept away from home. Even in the boy scouts I had my doll with me during our camping trips.

I turned 18 three days before my then-girlfriend Julia. For the first time our parents allowed me to stay over. Not that we hadn’t done things before – but staying over was a new level. I didn’t want to ruin that by bringing the doll.

Julia’s screams woke me up. I felt something pulling on my arms, pulling in different directions. When my eyes opened one of the pulls suddenly stopped.

I was still stunned and confused. Julia’s father was the one that lifted the bed up to look under it. My memories are hazy, but I do remember that there were a few drops of blood. There were deep scratches on my hand.

After that night Julia moved to another room and got a new bed. And I kept the doll with me again.

It is funny actually, that I never named the doll. In my mind it didn’t need a name. It was always just my doll.

Looking at the old pictures I really think the doll is modelled after me. The same hair color, the same round face and on the very first picture that I have with the doll I even wear the same clothes.

That first picture bothers me a lot. It is clearly taken at my grandparents’ place and my grandfather’s legs are standing behind me. I have a small band-aid on my forehead. But what bothers me is that I’m not holding the doll. Instead the doll is tied to my body with a string.

There are several pictures where the doll is tied to me. Nearly all of them are taken at my grandparents’ place. The last one is from when I was six. Afterwards I am just holding the doll.

I loved my grandparents. I don’t remember many moments with my grandfather, but my grandmother lived until I was twelve and I have fond memories of eating cookies or collecting mushrooms with her. She was always cheerful and kind to me. Still, when I think back to those moments, I always felt slightly uncomfortable with her – especially if we were at her house. The house always smelled sweetly of bergamot and cakes, but still it felt never like home for me.

I remember a day, when I was seven or eight, when I played hide and seek with my grandmother. I am an only child, just like my father, and so I usually played with adults.

When I had to hide grandma always found me too quickly. She knew all the good hiding spots. That day I must have lost a few times in a row – until I found the wardrobe in my grandparents’ old bedroom.

It was a large wardrobe made of thick and dark wood. It squeaked loudly when I pulled the door open. I felt uncomfortable because it seemed so dark inside but I also wanted to finally win a game.

Grandma must have heard the squeaking. I heard her running up the stairs. She called my name.

I quickly climbed in the wardrobe and pulled the door towards me. When the door swung shut a cold shiver ran through my body. Suddenly I felt panic, pure dread.

The door was nearly shut; the light was nearly gone. I was frozen in place.

I heard someone breathing.

Footsteps.

I closed my eyes in fear. Something scratched against the door; then it was pulled open.

My grandmother pulled me outside.

“Are you okay? Did it touch you?”

She shouted those words.

Then she ran, with me in her arms, towards the guest bedroom. She pushed the doll in my hands. Only then I felt better. Only with the doll I felt safe.

I didn’t tell her about the breathing sound.

My grandmother tried her best to make me feel better. We baked cookies together. She made me promise not to tell anyone that I had been in the wardrobe and what I had felt.

For weeks I didn’t even go to the bathroom without my doll. I climbed on the bathtub and placed the doll on the top of the shower cabin to make sure that I was not alone during my shower.

I think my parents understand how important the doll is for me. They never tried to take her away and since they never acknowledged its effect, but since the school trip incident they always made sure that I had the doll with me.

A few times, when I visited my parents for an overnight trip, my mom asked me whether I had the doll with me. She always tried to sound casual, as if she was just curious whether I was still using it, but I felt that that wasn’t sincere.

Once I joked that I hadn’t brought it and my mother’s eyes widened. Her face got paler too. She seemed genuinely afraid until I said that it was a joke.

Afterwards she tried to play it off. She said something along the lines that I should finally grow up and leave the doll at home, but I knew she wasn’t sincere. Her fingers had gone completely cold.

As said, the problem is that Kerri doesn’t understand that I need the doll. Last Wednesday she was tidying up and, without telling me, packed it in a box in the garage.

I only realized it when we went to bed. Kerri was already under the covers. I closed the bedroom door and tapped the light switch.

I instantly felt the dread. I couldn’t move anymore.

I just heard the breathing.

I stood at the door and tried my best to move my fingers again; to switch the light on. I heard something on the floor, like fingernails tapping on wood. They came from the bed and moved closer to me.

Kerri asked something. I don’t remember what she asked. But she noticed that I didn’t respond.

The breathing was louder. The nails were nearly at my feet.

Kerri flicked the bedside light on.

When the bedside light turns on there is always a momentary flash of light followed by a moment of darkness until it fully turns on.

In that short first flash of light I saw something on the floor. It had an incredibly thin and pale body and was on all fours. The fingernails were long and the hair long and hanging down the sides. It stared at me with bared teeth. But what truly disturbed me was its face. It looked like a starving version of me.

The light flashed back out and on again. The thing was gone.

I didn’t go to bed until I found the doll. Kerri thought I was crazy. She neither heard nor saw anything. We had a huge fight because of the doll.

Kerri threatened that she will throw the doll away if I don’t put it at least inside the wardrobe. I tried that long before I met her – it’s not enough.

Now, during the day, I take the doll to work so that Kerri can’t secretly throw it out. I keep it in my suitcase and at night I bring it back home.

Last night I woke up and saw Kerri standing next to my bed. She took the doll and turned towards the door. I was so shocked that I could barely react; I only managed to stop her when she opened the door.

The rest of the night I slept with the doll tied to my body. Just the way it was tied to me when I was a small child.

I have never slept better than with the doll tied to my body.

And I never realized that Kerri’s breathing during the night is much quieter than I thought.

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